Rental Cars and Your Expectation of Privacy Against a Police Search & Seizure – Does the law treat rental cars and your own vehicle the same?
During the summer, many rent cars to take trips to various locations outside of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Post pandemic People have different reasons for renting vehicle but usually its to save their own car from those extra miles along with the wear and tear. Outside of the summer, most of us will have to rent a car at some point in our lives. My first job out of college was actually working for a rental car company—Enterprise! Renting a car is sometimes as stressful as the accident or worrying about a vacation to a new place. While renting a car is sometimes stressful, not understanding your constitutional rights as they pertain to that rental car is even worse.
Our law firm represents individuals charged with different crimes and offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While our criminal defense firm is based in Philadelphia and Moorestown, New Jersey, we have represented accused individuals throughout these 2 states for over a decade. In many of these cases one of our strongest arguments is a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence based on the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or Article 1, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Remember that while the US Constitution protects all citizens against illegal search and seizure so do all state constitution. State constitutions provide an extra layer of constitutional protections. Please keep in mind that no state constitution can provide less protection under the Supremacy Clause.
The Illegal Search Of Car or Vehicle vs. Home
I’ve written on previous occasions that there is a substantial difference between the search of a home and a vehicle. A home search, in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, almost always requires a search warrant unless the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of evidence some type of exigent circumstances. A vehicle, however, isn’t treated the same way under the law. In most instances police can perform a warrantless search of an automobile. This, however, recently changed in Pennsylvania and now a warrant is required in most car search situations.
Warrantless searches are sometimes constitutional if police can establish probable cause that evidence of a crime exists within a car or vehicle. Warrantless searches remain legal in New Jersey but for the most part illegal in Pennsylvania
Keep in mind that during a motion to suppress, the burden isn’t guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but a by a preponderance of evidence.
There Is A Lower Expectation of Privacy In A Vehicle – Exceptions
Warrantless searches are often permissible (in New Jersey, not Pennsylvania) because courts have ruled that a person has a lower expectation of privacy in a vehicle as opposed to a house. While warrantless searches are allowed, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception, which permits these intrusions to a person’s privacy, does not pertain to vehicle searches which occur if the car is parked in a person’s driveway or along the curtilage (surrounding property) of a person’s home.
The Supreme Court, in the decision of Collins v. Virginia (2018), specifically stated that the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement not only applies to a person’s home but to a vehicle located on the grounds of the person’s home.
In Philadelphia and the surrounding suburban counties, many of our clients are arrested following a traffic stop. There are also situations, however, where police attempt to search a car based on anonymous tips from alleged concerned citizens in the area. If you’re charged with a crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, your criminal lawyer must evaluate the place of the search to determine whether or not it falls in or out of the automobile exception to the constitution.
Rental Cars & Your Expectation Of Privacy
While there is a lower expectation of privacy in a person’s vehicle, that expectation does exist. Prosecutors and district attorneys have attempted to argue that there is no expectation of privacy if the person does not have ownership in the actual vehicle. The US Supreme Court has ruled however, that a driver in the lawful possession or control of a rental car may challenge the search of that vehicle even if he or she isn’t the authorized driver or on the rental agreement based on a reasonable expectation of privacy which is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Why you should never consent to a vehicle search!
You should never assume that these constitutional rights do not apply to your situation. I always advise clients never to give consent to police to search a home, vehicle, or place of business. Consent will negate all constitutional rights and make it very difficult for your criminal lawyer to win your case. While providing consent will not necessarily mean that you will lose your criminal case, it does place it in a far worse condition.
Why A Motion To Suppress Is So Important
A motion to suppress evidence is not only a strong defensive tool for your criminal lawyer in a case pertaining to illegal drugs, guns, and other weapons but also in drunk driving (DUI/DWI). A successful motion will exclude the evidence and make it virtually impossible for the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, prosecution will withdraw the case based on a successful motion.
If you’ re charged with a drug crime or a crime involving a gun, always hire a criminal lawyer and make sure that this attorney can properly explain to you the concept of a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence and trial alternatives in the event that the motion is not successful.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
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